Should Your Doctor Be Following You On Twitter?

What a silly question. What doctor has time to follow patients on Twitter? Besides, healthcare is serious business and Twitter is mostly about frivolity, right?  Not so fast, let’s think about it.

Do you think the content of your Tweets is a reflection of your general state of health?

I was thinking the other day about when my son was away at college. He went to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, so we only saw him a couple of times a year.  We really looked forward to a weekly phone call and communicated frequently by email.  He graduated in 2011.  I now have two daughters in college, also far away, and though we chat frequently (by Skype or FaceTime, interestingly), I don’t feel the same pining that I felt when Derek was away because I follow both of my daughters on Twitter.  Their Tweets (several daily) are mostly thoughts that pop into their heads, so it gives me a great window into what they’re thinking and what is going on in their lives, almost in the moment.

I recently became intrigued with free text analysis as a tool to learn more about an individual’s health.  Tools like Wordle and are among the many that enable you to create interesting graphics of text.  The words that are mentioned more frequently in any block of text are featured more prominently in the graphic.  A glance at the graphic gives you a sense of what the writer feels is important, what is on her mind, or even a quirk in her writing style (if certain phrases are emphasized, for instance).

I’m intrigued because of my belief that analyses like this are probably a more accurate barometer of someone’s health than what we’d learn if we asked anyone of us a series of questions.  We want to look good for others and we tend to report ourselves as being healthier than we are.  This phenomenon is well studied and referred to as Social Desirability Bias.  Interestingly, this also applies to religion, as I learned from this recent NPR story.  I am guessing that what we write on Twitter can give some sense of what is going on beneath this veneer.

Am I onto something?  Well, you tell me.

Here is one example, created on by entering @sixuntilme, the Twitter handle of a woman who blogs about her life with diabetes.